Last updated on May 14th, 2019
Immigrants currently applying for U.S. green cards often wonder whether or not they’re allowed to leave the country while their paperwork goes through.
However, few realize the major problems such a trip could create in their application process.
In this article, we’ll answer the question of whether or not you can leave the country while the government is processing your green card application.
In short, the answer is “yes.” However, you may only do so after obtaining Advance Parole status. Even then, there are several risks involved that you need to take into consideration.
Can I Leave the Country while my Application Processes?
In short, yes, but only if you give the government prior notice. While your I-485 (green card) application is processing, you may only travel outside of the U.S. if you first apply for something called Advance Parole.
Generally speaking, a visa allows for a single entry into the country. This means that, for most types of visas, if you leave the U.S. without gaining prior approval, the government will bar you from entering again until you get another, second, visa.
As one real life example of this, K-1 visa holders who leave the country on their honeymoon often find themselves stranded and unable to re-enter the country, even if they’ve properly filed their adjustment of status as a married couple.
The simplest way of getting around this problem is filing for Advance Parole. However, as we’ll discuss later, the holders of some specific visa types don’t have to worry about this step.
Generally speaking, the process of gaining Advance Parole is pretty simple. Before you leave the U.S., you need to fill out form I-131 (Application for Travel Document), and send it to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
After USCIS approves your form, you’ll have Advance Parole status and can set out for your foreign destination.
One important thing to note is that you need to wait for official I-131 approval before leaving the country. Failing to do so could result in a forfeited application, which could leave you stuck outside the country without another way in.
Additionally, USCIS will decide during the application process if your Advance Parole is good for either a single use or multiple uses.
In most cases, you’ll receive single-use status, since you’ll only need to re-enter the country once. However, multiple-use Advance Parole is also relatively common.
If USCIS decides to give you a single use of Advance Parole, your status will be good for 2 years. If they allow for multiple uses, your status will usually expire after just 1 year.
When planning your trip out of the country, you should take these time limits (as well as the processing time for the application itself) into consideration.
What Happens if I Don’t Give Notice?
If you leave the country without I-131 approval, USCIS will assume that you’ve abandoned your adjustment of status (green card) application.
This means that if you want to re-enter the country, you’ll have to start the visa process all over again. As a by-product of this, you’ll also lose any progress you’ve made on your adjustment of status application up to this point, as well as any fees you’ve already paid.
In total, you’ll lose any progress you’ve made towards becoming a permanent resident, both in time and in paid fees. Further, as mentioned, you’ll have to start all over again by applying for another visa, which can incur additional costs and take several more years of waiting.
On the other hand, USCIS does allow for an exception for people holding certain types of visas. These visa holders generally don’t have to apply for Advance Parole. Additionally, the government places additional restrictions on travel to certain countries, which may affect your travel plans.
Visa Holders who don’t Need Advance Parole:
As mentioned earlier, some visa types don’t need to file for Advance Parole before leaving the country. If you hold any of the following visas, you don’t need to file for Advance Parole:
- H-1 Visas (temporary workers) or their H-4 spouse and children
- L-1 Visas (intracompany transferees) or their L-2 spouse and children
- K-3 or K-4 Visas (spouse and children of a U.S. citizen)
- V-1 Visas (spouse and children of a lawful permanent resident of the U.S.)
As long as your visa is valid and unexpired, you shouldn’t face any problems. Also, make sure to have your visa paperwork on hand to present at the U.S. point of entry.
Visa Holders Not Eligible for Advance Parole:
The Federal Register will sometimes publish new regulations that prohibit re-entry into the U.S. from certain countries, regardless of visa status. The Federal Register is a journal issued by the U.S. Government that periodically publishes new regulations, policies and Executive Orders.
For example, in January 2017 the Federal Register published President Trump’s Executive Order that the U.S. wouldn’t accept anyone entering the country from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, and Yemen.
Therefore, applications for Advance Parole to re-enter the U.S. from any of those countries were denied until further notice.
You’ll want to make sure that the destination for your trip doesn’t conflict with any locations on the Federal Register before you leave the country.
Risks of Leaving the U.S.
You may be leaving the U.S. for a good reason – a wedding, a funeral, or to help family or friends. But before you leave, make sure you understand the risks.
You Could Miss Important Paperwork
If you leave the country while your adjustment of status paperwork is pending, you may miss out on some important mail. USCIS could send notices about interviews, appointments, or further information that they need from you.
These notices will come with deadlines, so if you don’t send them in on time, USCIS may determine that you’ve abandoned your application.
To avoid these complications, make sure someone is getting your mail and keeping on top of your immigration notices while you are gone. Make sure they communicate any information to you so you don’t miss any deadlines.
Advance Parole vs. Border Inspections
If you leave the country before officially receiving your green card, you must re-enter as an “applicant for admission.” If USCIS has granted you Advance Parole, you will do so through a port of entry, such as an airport or border town.
However, there are no guarantees that the border inspector will let you in. Even with your updated visa documents and Advance Parole, an inspector can deny entry at their own discretion. Common justifications for this include:
- Changes in U.S. policy
- Global conflicts resulting in tighter restrictions
- Inspections of your documents or belongings
Basically, if anything missing, incorrect, or even just suspicious on your documents, or if you are carrying a banned or illegal substance, security can deny you re-entry into the U.S.
This is a very real risk you’ll have to take if you leave the country before receiving your green card.
If you applied for an adjustment of status, you have the option to leave the country while your application is pending. However, you’ll have to apply for Advance Parole, and even then the process carries several risks.
If you plan to travel outside the U.S. before USCIS approves your Adjustment of Status, you should contact an immigration attorney to help better understand the process.
As you can tell from above, these situations often come down to the specifics of your case, so you’ll want to be prepared for any problems that might arise.